Mickey Rooney died on Sunday at his home in North Hollywood surrounded by his family. He was 93. Mickey was an award-winning actor and Hollywood legend who appeared in more than 300 films and TV programs. His acting career spanned from silent-era films to the 2011 “Muppets” movie. The actor had been ill in recent months and was the victim of elder abuse at the hands of his stepchildren. Despite his poor health, Rooney had been working on a film titled “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
Rooney was born Sept. 23, 1920 as Joseph Yule, Jr. His parents were vaudeville actors, and he first appeared on-stage as a toddler. He gained childhood stardom in the Mickey McGuire film shorts — from which he derived his stage name — before signing with MGM. Via his “Andy Hardy” series of films, the five-foot-three Rooney came to embody the virtues of small-town American boyhood. Those films and a series of musicals in which he co-starred with Judy Garland made him the nation’s biggest box office attraction for three years running.
Rooney’s attempt to make the transition from over-aged teenager to full-fledged adult was rocky, but after filing for bankruptcy (the money had dwindled through his many divorces and because of his fondness for betting on “the ponies”), he embarked on a career as a character actor in films including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” His work in television was no less lauded. He appeared in dozens of programs from 1954 to 2009, received two Golden Globe Awards and won an Emmy for his tender performance as a mentally challenged man in the 1981 TV movie “Bill.”
Rooney’s personal life was no less notable. Contract disputes with MGM, a bankruptcy and eight failed marriages, including one union to movie star Ava Gardner, made him fodder for the tabloids. And when he filed for elder abuse and fraud charges against his stepson Christopher Aber and Aber’s wife in 2011, his name appeared in headlines again. Rooney’s autobiography “Life Is Too Short” was published in 1993.
He is survived by wife Jan Chamberlin, a singer he married in 1978; son Mickey Rooney Jr. from his marriage to singer Betty Jane Rase; son Theodore Michael Rooney from his marriage to actress Martha Vickers; daughters Kelly Ann Rooney, Kerry Rooney and Kimmy Sue Rooney and son Michael Joseph Rooney from his marriage to Barbara Ann Thomason; and daughter Jonelle Rooney and adopted son Jimmy Rooney from his marriage to Carolyn Hockett. A son, Tim Rooney, died in 2006.
Rooney was among the last survivors of Hollywood’s studio era.